Writer and Director: Rebecca Johnson
Review by Tracey Francis
Shorts on Tap: Women in Revolt screened Top Girl as the opening for their short films night on 19 October 2016 at 93 Feet East. The curated event showed short films that was ‘challenging the very essence of womanhood’.
The first time I saw Top Girl I felt very indifferent about it – but I did watch it on a laptop with maternal eyes. Watching it two years later with an audience it had a different narrative. Donna and Felicia’s girlhood experience were similar but their outlooks this time seemed slightly different, but seemed to strengthen their friendship, which gets tested. I also noticed them more as young women who were transitioning into womanhood and having to think a little harder about life and their choices.
Top Girl focuses on Brixton girlfriends Donna and Felicia. Donna appears the stronger character in the friendship, but they are both struggling to find their space in this world as young women. Donna wants get the infamous guy Legz to hear her ‘spit’, as she wants her lyrics to be heard within a wider audience, which ultimately means fame. Unfortunately, she goes to see Legz who is surrounded with his friends and therefore he plays up to his persona of a British Tupac. Donna within a few moments of being at his place ends up giving oral sex to Legz and she is not heard spitting. The usual gossip about Donna now ensues and she has to find a way to deal with uncomfortable situation. However, the Quadrophenia moment comes when Donna goes into a mobile phone shop to get her phone unlocked and is confronted with an embarrassed Legz behind the counter. On seeing Donna he says without her even initially realising it is him, ‘This is just a part time job to help my mum until the music takes off.’ This is very reminiscent of the 1979 British youth film Quadrophenia when Jimmy is in a depressed state and heads to Brighton in the hope he can feel the great moments he had there not too long ago. He then sees the popular mod Ace Face as a bellboy, which in this case shatters is dreams. The hero has fallen like Legz for Donna but her dreams are not shattered. The final scenes after she leaves the shop show her subtle reactions that speak volumes. She does not need to put herself in compromising positions for any guy, and life is not always as everyone portrays.
Top Girl introduces the brilliant actresses Rumbi Mautsi as Donna and Naomi J.Lewis as Felicia. They are both talented and extremely convincing, as you are thrown into their world immediately as they appear on screen. This film is very British, very London and captures one aspect of a Black British girlhood experience. As Abondance Matanda wrote in issue one of gal-dem, ‘ Top Girl should be in the same conversation as Top Boy and Kidulthood, but it never was given the kind of platform that would enable this. There is barely any journalistic commentary on it and being a short film it’s not on DVD’. Abondance makes an excellent point and clearly shows how the female voice is pushed aside. Rebecca Johnson went on to make Honeytrap, which encumbers not only a complex view of inner city life but also that of a young person who has been separated from her mother and then reunited. Rebecca Johnson adds the layer of the unspoken life of parental separation that many people from the Caribbean diaspora have experienced.
Let’s hope the landscape of the girlhood experience is explored more extensively within film culture, whether it is an online, short or a feature film – the important factor is that film culture needs to constantly be enriched and the female narrative is so vital.
Bechdel Test: Pass – Donna and Felicia.
Women in Film rating: 4 stars – on revisiting this film it firmly sits within the girlhood, London, inner city and contemporary British film genres.
Shorts on Tap – Women in Revolt: http://shortsontap.com/
Top Girl article by Abondance Matanda: @abondance_
Suggested films to view in relation to Top Girl:
Imitation of Life (1934 dir. John M.Stahl or 1959 dir.Douglas Sirk)
Quadrophenia (1979 dir. Franc Roddam)
Knock Off (2009 dir Rosanne Flynn)
Gone Too Far (2014 dir. Destiny Ekaragha)